Right now I have 111 Facebook friends, 387 Linkedin connections, 48 people on IM, something like 20 twitter followers, a few less that follow me on Foursquare, and a small number of blog subscribers.
I don’t know where this puts me in the grand pantheon of social media – probably somewhat average for someone of my age – but certainly not hyper social – I don’t live on any of these services.
Whenever I am faced with a company that is looking at social search or social recommendation, almost all of them start with the premise that those closest to you via these social services are going to be the ones who represent the best fit in terms of recommendations. My guess is that this is the default position due to the difficulty of really solving the problem – and the fact that all social services have pretty robust API’s that allow you to connect the dots pretty easily.
As I say in the title – I don’t think this is the answer:
It’s not who you like (or follow) – it’s people who are like you when it comes to the dimension you are looking for a recommendation on.
Now that’s a much harder problem to solve. And I would posit that the further you get from your home base (where a lot more of your friends are likely to be experts at all things in your home town) the harder it gets to solve.
For example: I love to snorkel – and so does the rest of my family. Whenever we go on a beach vacation the number one criteria tends to be proximity to great snorkeling – followed by a host of other criteria – but we will likely stay in a hotel that might not otherwise get a second look, if it happens to be within walking distance of a great snorkeling spot off a beach.
So tell me, how do we get recommendations that match this criteria? Where do I turn to? If I put that out into most social search engines – they will ping my self defined social circle to get an answer and chances are it will not be successful.
What I really want is to find people who are passionate about snorkeling – then narrow them down to people who do this in the Caribbean (being east coast based this makes for the easiest trips), then try and understand how many of them have a range of knowledge (not just living on one island and never having been able to compare it to another), then understand what the current dynamics are in the location (has there been a lot of rain and you are getting bad visibility due to run-off into the bay? has a hurricaine recently passed through and the seas are choppy?).
Now if I can get an answer to all of these questions, then I can see if there are hotels nearby and available for the times I am looking at, flights available etc…
Where’s the next great social network that allows me to connect with people like me – not necessarily on a permanent basis – but on an ever changing and ever morphing basis depending on where we are in time and space.
Now that would be interesting. People who are like me – as I am now – because guess what? In 15 minutes I might be looking to plan my next great hiking adventure or I might be figuring out whether I should buy an iPad today – or wait till the iPad 2 comes out or where I should go for dinner tonight in Stamford CT.
My guess is that people are of such a complex nature that the friends they self select are not necessarily the best people to talk to about all of their recommendation needs. You need people like you.